Ron Thomson is an ex-game warden and retired national parks board director. He has 46 years experience in southern African wildlife management affairs including 28 years of full-time service in various national park departments and 3 years working as a professional hunter. He now writes books "to create a better informed public" - better informed, that is, about the realities of wildlife management. One of his books has been prescribed reading for the Higher Diploma in Nature Conservation for the last 15 years - an academic course offered to serving wildlife field officers by the Tshwane University of Technology. For more than 20 years he was a Member of the British Institute of Biology and a Chartered Biologist for the European Union. He has vast experience in both the theoretical AND the practical application of big game management - especially elephant management. Two of his past posts were: (1) The Provincial Game Warden i/c. of what is now Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park - one of Africa's biggest and most prestigious game reserves; and (2) The Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board (in the 1980s).
The Editor, THE STAR NEWSPAPER
CONFIDENCE INDUSTRY OR CONSERVATION?
“SAVE US” was the heading to an article - supported by the pitiable picture of a baby elephant in distress - published in THE STAR on Thursday June 6th. In the article Daphne Sheldrick, who owns the Nairobi Animal Orphanage in Kenya, is stated as claiming that the orphaned baby elephants she ‘rescues’ from the wild are solely the result of their mothers having been killed by poachers. Over the years her story has never changed. She has used this contrived tale to dupe the media and the public for decades. Indeed, the media now love to support her emotional appeals for money “to save the elephant”. Thus is she kept in the limelight and in fat-cat self-employment.
The WHOLE truth of the matter is quite different to the image she conveys. MANY of the elephants she has ‘saved’ are more likely the result, NOT of poachers killing their mothers, but of her own demands that “NO ELEPHANT MANGEMENT” (culling) be applied to excessive elephant populations in Kenya (and elsewhere). She would never admit this, of course, and it is more convenient for her fund-raising purposes to claim that every baby elephant that comes into her hands was orphaned because poachers killed their mothers.
The result of a ‘no intervention’ elephant management policy is that elephant populations double their numbers every 10 years: 1000 becomes 2000; then 4000; then 8000 and so on. Soon these huge numbers of elephants strip their habitats of all edible vegetation within 25 kilometres of water during the six-months-long dry seasons of every year. The first animals to suffer from this annual dry-season starvation regime are lactating mothers whose milk dries up. Their babies then do not have the energy to keep up with their mothers on the long daily trek between the water and their distant food sources; so their mothers abandon them. If they did not, the big cows would die.
Most of the baby elephants Ms. Sheldrick ‘rescues’ are, almost certainly, these abandoned babies - the product of her own emotional opposition to rational elephant management practices. And, over the years, she has conditioned the media to her way of thinking; and the media, not understanding how they are being manipulated, extend to her MASSIVE free publicity.
Daphne Sheldrick’s scam is but one of many being perpetrated by experts at this trade; which has developed into the biggest confidence industry the world has ever known.
It is said that the truth is more interesting and more compelling than fiction. It is a pity the media doesn’t yet understand the validity of this axiom. Or is it easier and more convenient for journalists to simply remain the puppets of this nefarious industry than to investigate and report on the much more fascinating ‘conservation truths’ about such issues?